updated 9/10/2008 10:57:20 AM ET 2008-09-10T14:57:20

Tipsters to New York City's crime and complaints hot lines can now send photos and video from computers and cell phones, officials said Tuesday. It's believed to be the first U.S. city that can accept images for those services.

Callers to the city's emergency and non-emergency hot lines will now be able to send in photos and video to report crimes and complain about quality-of-life problems like uncollected garbage.

While hundreds of cities accept text messages to emergency hot lines, New York is believed to be the first with the capability to accept images, officials said.

By next year, photos sent by bystanders will be made available to patrol cars, and pictures could even be used as evidence in prosecutions, officials said.

"This technology should put a scare into every would-be criminal, because the chances of getting caught in the act is now better than ever," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said major improvements to technology within the department in the past six years have helped reduce crime, which is down more than 3 percent so far this year from last year.

More than 12,000 new computers have been installed in precincts around the city, technology in radio cars has been improved and the department is better able to share information.

"When I returned to the department in 2002, I saw that very little had changed as far as technology. We were still one of the world's leading users of carbon paper and Wite-Out. But that's changed significantly," he said.

It took about 18 months to develop the image software, which cost about $250,000, city officials said.

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